UMW Survey Reveals Qualms about U.S. Ebola Preparedness

A majority of Virginians believe that the U.S. health system is unprepared to deal with an Ebola disease outbreak in this country, according to a new survey of state residents sponsored by the University of Mary Washington’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies.

iStock_000045684788LargeThirty percent of the 1,000 state residents surveyed Oct. 1 through Oct. 6 said that the government was very unprepared to handle an outbreak, while another 29 percent said the government was somewhat unprepared. Only 13 percent believed the government was very prepared, with another 22 percent saying the U.S. was somewhat prepared.

This year’s Ebola outbreak so far has killed more than 3,800 people in Africa, according to the World Health Organization. On Wednesday, Thomas Eric Duncan became the first person to die in the U.S. of Ebola, which he acquired before leaving Liberia for a visit to Texas.

These results were part of a broad pattern of negative evaluations of the U.S. government by Virginians. Only 28 percent of those surveyed said the U.S. was generally headed in the right direction, with 59 percent saying that things were headed in the wrong direction. Only 15 percent of those surveyed approved of the job Congress was doing, and only 43 percent approved of President Obama’s performance in office.

The margin of sampling error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the complete survey sample.

“If things get worse with Ebola in this country, the public’s negativity about the federal government may be a key factor standing in the way of believing federal authorities,” said  Stephen Farnsworth, professor of political science at UMW and director of the university’s Center for Leadership and Media Studies. “Gridlock, deep partisanship and continuing negative economic evaluations combine to create a populace inclined to doubt the federal government.”
With respect to other policy questions, support for the legalization of gay marriage in Virginia stood at 50 percent, as compared to 42 percent opposed, with the rest undecided or unwilling to answer the question.

In a March 2013 UMW survey, 45 percent favored gay marriage and 46 percent opposed. This month’s survey was conducted before the Supreme Court’s decision Monday to leave in place a federal appeals court ruling that cleared the way for gay couples to marry in the Old Dominion.

In 2006, the commonwealth’s voters approved an amendment to the Virginia Constitution to ban gay marriage by a 57 percent to 43 percent margin, a sharp contrast from the results of the 2013 and 2014 surveys of state residents.

“Rarely does public opinion shift on a social issue as rapidly as it has for gay marriage,” Farnsworth said. “While opposition to gay marriage remains substantial, the rapid erosion of that disapproval among Virginians in the years since the 2006 constitutional amendment is astonishing.”

The survey, which was conducted on the center’s behalf by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, also found significant support for Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s proposal to expand Medicaid for uninsured state residents. The Medicaid expansion plan has been rejected repeatedly by the state legislature, but was supported by a 64 percent to 29 percent margin of state residents in the survey.

In a September 2013 UMW survey, 59 percent supported Medicaid expansion while 31 percent opposed it.

“The governor’s full court press for Medicaid expansion may have moved public opinion slightly, but support for Medicaid expansion was substantial before the start of his term,” Farnsworth said. “What is particularly clear from this survey is that the legislators have not been successful in convincing Virginians that Medicaid expansion is a bad policy idea.”

Overall, 44 percent approve of the governor’s performance in office, as compared to 31 percent who disapprove. In March 2013, shortly before news of former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s corruption scandal emerged, support for the former governor was somewhat higher, with 53 percent supporting the Republican and 27 percent disapproving of his performance in office.

The current governor remains more popular than members of the Virginia legislature, with 45 percent disapproving of the performance of the House of Delegates and the Senate, while 41 percent approve.

For the full survey, see the Topline.

Contact:  Stephen J. Farnsworth at (703) 380-3025) or

The Fall 2014 Virginia Survey, sponsored by University of Mary Washington (UMW), obtained telephone interviews with a representative sample of 1,000 adults living in Virginia. Telephone interviews were conducted by landline (500) and cell phone (500, including 247 without a landline phone). The survey was conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International (PSRAI). Interviews were done in English by Princeton Data Source from October 1 to 6, 2014. Statistical results are weighted to correct known demographic discrepancies. The margin of sampling error for the complete set of weighted data is ± 3.5 percentage points.